My experience with HL2 was best summarized by Schmoops when he glanced over and said,

“Damn, I’d hate to see you play this without cheats.”

See, goal #1 in playing video games for me is minimizing frustration, because where there is frustration there is no fun. I also do not use walk throughs unless I have been sitting at the same spot for an hour or so, because following directions is not fun. Even if it is more efficient, and it was the only way you were ever going to get Silent Assassin Rating or finish the game in record time etc etc.

This is a normal person playing a game without cheats: Long hallway with doors, let’s proceed and check each room as we come to it for goodies; oh an enemy just popped out, kill him, grab his loot. Proceed.

This is me playing any sort of shooting game without cheats: Hm here’s a long hallway with doors on either side … I bet guys are going to pop out of them … I’m going to take one step forward and see what happens. OK, nothing happened. I’m going to peek inside this door just to make sure. But what if a guy is in the corner and has the doorway trained in his sights? Crap, OK … GO! Nothing in that room. Let’s take another step down the hall …

Bottom line, in order for me to emulate a normal person, I cheat. This could be a metaphor for my life in general. I only used one cheat code anyway, which makes it so I don’t go below 1 health, I didn’t artificially buff myself or otherwise throw off the balance of the game. I enjoyed this game less than Chronicles of Riddick (for which I did not employ any cheats) because I felt the difficulty level was a bit off and the frustration factor was high for various reasons.

The duration of most of the levels was unnaturally long. There’s a certain length of time you can ask a player to experience a mechanic without it becoming monotonous and tedious. Both of the segments where you are forced to navigate marshes, swamps or coastlines using either the buggy or the air boat were immensely frustrating. The controls for these vehicles are simple but getting them to maneuver in the desired manner is hard. About a third of the way through the air boat chapter I just abandoned the damn thing, thinking “How much longer can this level possibly last?”

A long time. A long, boring time. A little while later I used a cheatcode to respawn the air boat 🙁

But that wasn’t even as frustrating as the dune buggy chapter(s). After an eternity of alternately driving down the road, getting out of the car to get items or clear roadblocks, getting back on the car, we have the wonderful bridge sequence. So there’s a bridge about the size of the Golden Gate Bridge, and a force field preventing you from driving the buggy across it, so obviously I have to search for the off switch. I look around forever, finally go to the walk through and, of course, I really should have known that the switch would be at the other end of the massively long bridge. Take another hour to get to the other side and back, being attacked along the way, and then retrieve the buggy even though *I’ve already made it to the other side of the bridge before*.

Now I will pretend the aforementioned two chapters of the game did not exist so I do not go into a frothing rage.

I liked the physics system. It was just detailed enough to let you eliminate enemies with creative flair, yet not so detailed that it was annoying ( Penumbra 🙁 ). The architecture and layout of the levels were excellently planned out, making terrific use of space so that geometrically constrained levels seemed expansive. The real-time story telling mechanism was good, and well scripted enough that I never felt the urge to press my non-existent skip cutscene button. There are no unpleasant surprises. Unlike other games such as Dead Space which will simply spawn enemies directly behind you, you know that the corpse with the head crab on it will most definitely get up and lumber toward you as you approach. I like that. It’s good for my heart.

The last level was a perfectly satisfying conclusion to the game, with you tearing through enemies with unparalleled ease, but the last scene was extremely anticlimactic. I think the scene which was intended to be enigmatic and foreshadowing just felt like a flat, cheap cop out. But hopefully after I play Episodes One and Two I’ll change my mind.

Verdict: More than worth the time.